Yesterday I sat down with a man for an hour and half and we talked about his employment goals and employment barriers. Now he wasn’t completely unknown to me as we’d just spent the previous week together as he took part in a class I was co-facilitating pertaining to knowing yourself and finding a job / career that would match.
So who is this man? Well as the title suggests, he’s a 60 year-old, originally from India where he obtained his Masters degree. He’s been in Canada now for 20 years and is a Canadian citizen. He’s worked professionally in Sales and Marketing, once starting on the front line in a company and rising all the way up to be the company CEO. He’s in good health, speaks multiple languages, has a good sense of humour, excellent communication skills – and oh yes he’s unemployed and on social assistance.
Last year he and his wife moved from the west side of Canada to Oshawa, Ontario to move in with their adult son. This way the son gets some rental income, helps out his parents, and they in turn have a stable home and the extended family support they want. The difficulty is of course that they begin anew employment-wise.
When we talked of barriers I threw the prejudice against age and race issues right out there instead of dancing around them to maximize the value of our time together. Yes, both are possibilities he conceded and he has felt dismissed too abruptly for jobs he is well qualified on paper to do. In a move that is sure to offend some but be completely understandable by others, I asked if he’d ever considered submitting some resumes using a pseudonym or nickname. Both his first and last name you see might suggest he is a person from a visible minority with origins offshore.
Yes, sadly, there are still some employers who are prejudiced against people who don’t look like them or their other employees, and worry about everything from a lack of Canadian experience to traditionally spicy foods in the microwave. It’s true. They don’t want to risk alienating their customers or some other such silliness and so they blindly dismiss any application from a person not like themselves.
Then again, it might be his age with all that grey hair (same as my hair colour). At 60, the sands of time are falling much too quickly and employers might look him up and down and see someone slowing down, rising health issues, afternoon naps, inflexibility, out-of-date training and experience. Very real possibilities.
“But can they really do that?” he asked me. “I mean can they not hire me just because I am old or because of my name?” Well honestly discrimination is against the law on the basis of age, gender, sex, religion, ethnicity etc. However, people being people, some poor employers do discriminate they just don’t always openly share their prejudices with applicants.
“If I used a nickname would that not make me seem fraudulent?” This is a great question and one that people will argue for or against with compelling points. The object of a resume and cover letter however are to do but a single thing; get an interview. Once the interview is obtained, it falls to the applicant to sell themselves in the interview, marketing their strengths and values as benefits to be desired leading to being hired. Good thing he’s in Sales and Marketing.
Now by his figures, since January, he has applied for 1,000 jobs. (Is that even possible over 4 1/2 months?) As hardly any interviews have transpired, it would be interesting for ‘Peter Sharpe’ to send out a few resumes and see if he gets any increase in interviews. And supposing that with his new nickname he did land more interviews, he’d have eliminated one barrier to employment.
But what about when they see him and the colour of his skin and the lines on his face – the colour of his hair? He’s in Sales and Marketing remember. So my advice to him was to immediately hijack the interview at the first sign of being dismissed if that happens. After all, if he feels a job is lost that he is qualified for, there is nothing to lose but something to gain. So it could go like this…
“I’m not sure you’re what we’re looking for after all Peter. We’ll let you know though if we can use you.”
“That’s a good strategy of yours, I like it! Dismissing me early to see whether or not I get up and leave or persevere and make my best sales pitch. You are playing the customer who doesn’t want your product. Let me tell you then that I am internationally trained and have full fluency in 4 languages. That means your multicultural clients will readily identify with me. I have worked both on the front-line, at the top and everywhere in between so I can speak with customers at their level. I’m energetic, in good health, have a great sense of humour and meet all your requirements. I even adopted a nickname to increase my chances of obtaining this interview by improving the attraction of the product – me; and you bought it. I am fortunate to have met an employer who understands Sales and Marketing and can detect value when it sits across from them.”
And wouldn’t it be ironic if Bob the interview was sitting on his wallet containing his birth certificate identifying him as William?